Friday, September 30, 2011

Calling indie bookstores

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal is launching this weekend. (Conflux 7, Sunday 2nd October, during the lunch break. It's Mary Victoria's book launch but she graciously offered to share.)

The book is already available through various online sellers, but I'm keen to get it into Aussie bookstores. In this country science fiction has played second fiddle to wizards and vampires for years now, and the phrase 'Australian junior science fiction' brings up as many results as a land title search on Jupiter.

My plan has been to approach Aussie independents and franchise chain stores via Facebook, Twitter and the good old postal service, telling them about my new book and pointing out the lack of competition. So far the response has been great, and it's certainly been keeping me busy.

Hal Junior will be distributed by a number of companies including Dennis Jones & Associates and James Bennett. Unfortunately none of these distributors have the book on their lists yet, and if asked they probably won't know a thing about it. (Their reps concentrate on releases by major publishers, and Hal Junior is a low-profile indie release. Plus it can take 4-6 weeks for a new title to propagate.)

So, until the ISBN is recognised by their system I'll just fill orders myself. Not something you have to bother with when you sign to a major publisher, but who didn't like playing shop as a child? ;-)

My long-term goal is not to ship more Hal Junior books, it's about writing and releasing book two. (Roll on NaNoWriMo 2011!)  All my current efforts involve trying to build enough momentum so the first book will roll along on its own. Fingers crossed!

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, September 26, 2011

DIY publicity

All authors, whether trade- or self-pubbed, have to shoulder some of the publicity burden. How much you take on depends on the state of your finances, the amount of spare time you can scrape up, and also relies to some extent on your goals.

For example, if your book has a tight focus on a particular group (say, F1 enthusiasts) there's little point spamming writing groups up and down the internet. You'd be better off joining motor racing forums and joining in discussions, ensuring you have a carefully-crafted signature line.

I've looked at a bunch of different publicity options, including:

Goodreads advertising
Google adwords
BookRooster reviews service
Sending out review copies
Blogging & author website updates
Approaching local stores
Offering guest blogs
Goodreads giveaways (print copies only)
Librarything Member giveaways (print or ebook)
Widgets and bookmarks
... and many more.

Why so many different places? Because most people don't pay any attention the first couple of times they see something mentioned, and you need those fleeting glimpses to add up over time. When it seems everyone is talking about a particular book, everyone DOES start talking about a particular book. We're odd like that.

So, what have I found? Straight-out advertising is the easiest way to get your book mentioned, but people know you (or your publisher) are paying for the privilege, so it's low on credibility.

The BookRooster service is an interesting one. There's a misconception that you're 'buying' positive reviews, but that's not the case. You pay your money, send in an epub copy of your work, and BookRooster makes it available to their members, all of whom have volunteered to read and review books. Your book is offered until it garners ten reviews, and BookRooster reviewers are instructed to post genuine, honest reviews.You might get ten one-star reviews, ten five-star, or (most likely) a mix. I've given it a shot with Hal Junior, and I'll let you know how it goes.

Sending out review copies can be time-consuming and expensive. Unless you're posting to the majors, you'll need to contact potential reviewers, offer your book, and wait for a response (and a mailing address). I contacted two or three dozen, after carefully checking their review policies to ensure my book was a match for their site. Only one third responded, although most of those agreed to receive a review copy.

Blogging about your book and posting updates to your website are good ideas, in theory, but if you don't have many visitors you're talking to an empty room. It's worth having an effective landing page for your book, with buy links, a cover shot and so on. Your blog will also receive visitors when people occasionally follow you back from other sites where you've left comments.

Approaching local stores is something all authors should do, whether trade- or self-published. There's nothing like hand-selling to drive your sales, and for self-pubbed authors it's handy to have a store where you can send buyers. (I rarely sell my own books. It's better to give the sale to a store.)

Offering guest blogs is an effective way to gain exposure. I've been blogging about the dearth of junior science fiction, the reasons I chose to self-publish my new series, the importance of editing and pro cover art with self-pubbed books, and so on.

I mentioned widgets and bookmarks, and in the past I've been known to commission all kinds of weird items to promote my books. In the end, though, I've decided that the best advert for your book is ... your book.

Yes, finally we come to the giveaways. When I was promoting my Hal Spacejock books a few years ago neither Goodreads or LT offered member giveaways, although Hal 4 was included in one of the very early LT Early Readers promos. It takes five minutes to set up a giveaway, and you can offer any number of books targeted to specific countries. LT Members Giveaway even allows you to offer ebook editions, which is basically free promotion.

Back in the day I used to offer signed copies of Hal Spacejock via my website, carefully collecting email addresses and mailing out lists of winners every month. LT and Goodreads have reduced this to a much simpler system, and Goodreads even selects the 'winners' based on whether they have similar titles in their libraries. Plus, the fact these winners are present on GR and LT increases your chances of a review.

To summarise this post, there are many ways to spend money trying to promote a novel. It's possible every dollar spent on promoting fiction is a total waste of money, but I like to play the long game. For example, I'm planning at least five books in the Hal Junior series, so raising awareness of the first should pay back later, when future titles are released and wavering buyers can see a bunch of reviews for the earlier books.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's all coming together

After months of hard work by a whole bunch of people (thanks Dion, Satima, Pauline and many others!) I was very proud to get the first author copies of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal on Friday. There's nothing like holding your own book, opening a page at random and seeing your own words in print ... especially when many of them are spelt correctly.

I took some happy snaps only to discover I'd lost the thingy which downloads data from my camera. (The USB port broke earlier this year so I use a card reader instead. Which I've lost. Where's Clunk when you need him?)

The first batch of books vanished quicker than a 2kg tub of icecream in the hands of my kids, sent off to reviewers and goodreads giveaway winners. (Hopefully I sent the books and not the icecream.)

After holding a copy of your own work, the next buzz comes from seeing it listed online, available for sale. Amazon and B&N are already selling copies, and it's only a matter of time before Book Depository and various Aussie bookstores list Hal Junior as well. (For the impatient, I've put up an order page for signed copies.)

The third buzz comes from reviews - at least, the favourable ones. You can't appeal to every reader, so all you can do is write the best book possible and hope it reaches the people who will enjoy it the most. There's a mix of anticipation and dread while awaiting early reviews. Were the first readers too gentle? Have I missed a gaping plot hole. Fear not! Reviewers will soon tell me.

The final buzz comes from realising my work is done. The Secret Signal is out there, sink or swim, and after a couple of weeks obsessively googling every mention of the book I'll be able to let go and move on to my next task. Hal Spacejock 5!

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why the price difference?

If you look at the back cover of Hal Junior, or search out the various catalogue pages on the web, you'll discover a discrepancy in the price. The UK price is 5.99, the US price is $6.99 and the Australian price is ... $16.95. Woah! I thought we were at parity with the USD?

A small part of the difference can be explained by the higher printing costs in Australia. (Australian minimum wages and commercial rents are much higher than the US.)

The other issue is distribution. In Australia, stores, schools and libraries usually buy from distributors at 40% off the cover price. Distributors buy from the publisher at 55% off the cover price. So, a shop pays $10.17 for a $16.95 book, including about $1 GST. The distributor pays $7.62 including about 70c GST. In each case the difference is their gross profit.

Take the GST off the 55% discount price and you come back to $6.90 or so, which is the US retail price. Given printing in Australia costs almost twice as much, you can see that authors make less selling a book for $16.95 in Australia than they do selling the same title for $6.99 in the US!

You may ask yourself why Australian shops don't buy direct from publishers. Some do, but for accounting and transport reasons it's easier to buy from two or three sources. (This is a HUGE country with a tiny population of 20-odd million.)  It's not just books either ... this system applies to most products in Australia.

Okay, so what if authors sell their books direct to the public? They could sell them for $9.95 and make more than they would selling at $16.95 via a shop!

Nice idea, but distributors and shops aren't going to carry and promote a book if authors undercut them by a huge margin. (When I signed a contract for my previous series there was a clause forbidding me from selling copies myself.)

Plus I'm supposed to be writing books, not packing and mailing them.

So what's the solution? One is to go out and invent a teleporter, so books can be moved around the vast Australian continent quickly and cheaply. A slightly less complicated answer is to keep the price at $16.95 but offer free postage. (Alas, postage in Australia is expensive too.)

It's not an ideal situation, and you can see why online shopping has caught on in Australia in such a huge way. You can't open a newspaper without seeing an article on the suffering of retailers, or the enormous rise in parcels handled by Australia Post.

I hope that goes some way towards explaining the price discrepancy. I don't like it either, but I have to work within the same system.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Junior fiction ebooks. Is there a market?

I've thought about this one quite a bit over the past few months. Teens have their smartphones, many of which can be used with the Kindle software, but what about younger readers?

My instinct (and some very cursory market research) says no. Most parents are unwilling to place a dedicated $150-$200 e-reading device into the hands of their children, not when a $10-$15 paperback is almost bulletproof by comparison. (I don't mean all kids are careless or clumsy, but accidents happen and the humble school bag tends to be a concrete mixer and compactor all in one.)

I think Pottermore will change this up a bit, but it depends how much the HP ebooks sell for. (I've heard people saying 'who's going to buy the ebook when they already have a print copy?' ... um, do you know how many NEW kids there are each year? It's an endless market.)

But that's beside the point. There's one very good reason to offer middle-grade books in cheap ebook formats: parents. They can read a preview (or buy the whole ebook), and order the paperback if they think it's suitable for their kids or grandkids. Think of it as e-browsing.

There's another reason too: Many adults enjoy teen or middle-grade fiction, but wouldn't be seen dead reading them in public. Stick them on the Kindle, and who's to know?

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Sample or no sample?

No matter how beautiful the cover, nor how compelling the blurb, if the first chapter doesn't resonate with the reader they're not going to buy the book.* If it's a typo-strewn train wreck they're even less likely to shell out for a copy.**

Having said that, there are compelling reasons to post a sample:

If people read the sample and can't stand it, they're unlikely to hunt down every online listing and leave scathing reviews. Now imagine they shelled out 5, 10 or 20 bucks on an ebook or paperback, sight unseen.

If they read the sample and enjoy it, you've probably made a sale.

A poor cover and/or title can give people the wrong impression. If they get past those and read the first chapter, you've been given a second chance to impress.

Same with a wonky blurb. If it makes the novel sound like something it isn't, a sample chapter or two can undo the damage.

So how much of a sample should you post? Enough to give them an idea, not so much that they're wondering when it's going to end. (Especially if the sample has to be read on a computer screen.) I think two or three chapters is plenty.

So what prompted my thoughts on sample chapters? I've just been tussling with this very subject, that's what. I've been thinking to myself, "If I've written a lousy book I'll just try and sell it on the cover art, the blurb and the press release." I've also been thinking "What if the emperor has no clothes? If I upload a sample and everyone thinks it's crap, I'll be a laughing stock. And nude!"

Sooner or later you have to take the risk: Here are the first two chapters of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal.

And relax, I'll make sure I'm wearing my space jocks.

* Unless it's a gift for someone else.

** Unless it's a gift for someone they don't like.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal now available (Kindle/epub/PDF)

Hal Junior is now available in various ebook formats (All $4.99):

On Amazon Kindle: US, UK and DE.

If you prefer epub or PDF with your mobi file, you can get all three directly from my site.


PS Paperback soon. Official release isn't until October 1 so consider this a sneak preview ...

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tying it all together (IPJA)

I've been going back and forth between the Bowkerlink and LightningSource web sites for a few days now.

Bowkerlink is where you register your title, linking it with the pre-purchased ISBN and specifying publication info for the books in print database. (Category, page count, cover image, type of book, retail price, etc.)

On the other hand, LSI is where you upload your cover and text files. And set the retail price, discount, etc.

All this overlap is making my brain hurt. For example, both sites allow you to specify the retail price and discount, but there's no info explaining which takes precedence.

Does LSI feed their data to Bowker, or do you have to manually add LSI as the distributor on Bowkerlink? No idea!

I'm not the first person facing this confusion, but searching the web hasn't turned up much. I found a book on Amazon covering the topic, but it's only available as a print title and by the time it arrives I'll be well past my deadline.

Tomorrow I'll probably give in and email customer support at LSI, but I really prefer to figure these things out for myself.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Indie- or self-pub?

There's some confusion over these terms. Indie publishing sounds cool, whereas self-pub has a stigma going back years. It's no surprise many self-pubbed authors are calling themselves indie published.

I resisted at first because self-pub is what I've always called it. You're publishing your own work. Nobody else is doing it for you.

Then I saw a post which brough up a good point: is it self-pub when you pay for cover art, editing, proofing and layout? Those people are doing a professional job, and it seems a bit odd for the author to claim their work under the 'self-pub' banner.

There's another point of view as well. If you set up your own imprint, purchase a block of ISBNs and go into business, this entity is still technically a publisher even if it only exists to publish your own work. Bowker and Lightning Source certainly think I am.

That's the stage I'm at now: I have my own imprint and I hired pros to get my book ready. I should probably stop calling it 'self-published' and start calling it 'indie-published' instead.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Cover art for Hal Junior: The Secret Signal

Cover art time! I reckon Dion Hamill did a fantastic job with this.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

New book: Marketing for AUTHORS

I have a guest spot (case study) in a new Kindle book: Marketing For Authors


"How will you get the 10,000 customers? How will you get to number one on Amazon? And how on earth will you clear your spare room of all that stock? The answer is with carefully planned marketing campaigns, a healthy dose of legwork, and a commitment to years of shameless self-promotion. While it's not always easy, this guide gives your shortcuts and tools that will save you years and tears."

It's a little known fact that it's up to authors to market themselves and their books. Whether you are published via a mainstream publishing house, self-published or even working your way through your first manuscript, this workshop is essential for every author who wishes to forward-plan for prosperity.

Anita Revel and written and published 17 books, including marketing guides for various industries. Based on her own experience, the advice in this workshop will help you plan your way to more sales with minimum fuss.

I just bought my copy. Go check it out!

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Behaving yourself on forums: a guide for self-published authors

The other day I was browsing Kindleboards and I came across a discussion about BMBs. (Buy My Book posts, the scourge of internet discussion forums.)

Someone asked why BMBs were so annoying to forum regulars, and I posted the following:

A forum is like a semi-private party. You can wander in and pick up the threads of various conversations before joining in with your own intelligent observations, or


Now guess why the other people at the party get annoyed.


Because of this behaviour many forums now have separate 'author threads', and regulars flag any BMBs outside this area. It's like ants in the kitchen: when you see one of the little blighters nosing around you know a thousand more are on the way. Every ant must go! Outside in the garden they can do what they like, but inside the house they're a pest to be exterminated.

If you take one thing from this post let it be this: don't be an ant in the kitchen. Don't carry your megaphone and sandwich board into private parties. Don't lose your message under ludicrous metaphors.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)